“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.” -Dolores Huerta
April 10 in California is known as Dolores Huerta Day, the day that celebrates the life and legacy of the co-founder (along with Cesar Chavez) of the National Farm Workers Association and one of the lead organizers of the Delano Grape Strike that led to the formation of the labor union, United Farm Workers of America.
In 1993, Huerta became the first Latina woman inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and in 2011, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama for her work in the labor movement.
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In her lifetime, Huerta stood up for labor rights and civil rights simultaneously, and through her example, we see that the two are inextricably linked in the fight for equality.
In a 2013 op-ed published in NBC Latino Huerta explained her deep support for marriage equality and how she has “come to see that the struggles gay people face are intertwined with my own struggles.”
“On a practical level,” Huerta continued, “the gay community was key in my work with the farm workers’ movement, from organizing to striking. The farm workers, in turn, have shown their support by marching in gay pride marches and carrying pride flags to display their support.”
“On a deeper level, this work has shown me that when we talk about workers’ rights, women’s rights, and civil rights, we are having the same conversation about human rights – and the universal struggle to be understood and treated as equals.”
Many times the question in politics is a matter of what should take precedence: economics or social reform.
Political operatives often place civil rights reform on the back burner. Longtime Democratic strategist James Carville famously stated, “the economy, stupid” when advising former President Bill Clinton in 1992 on what to prioritize during his presidential campaign.
In 2020, former Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) stated her belief that the reason Democrats didn’t take a larger majority in Congress was that they cared too much about protecting gay marriage and trans rights.
“As we circle those issues,” McCaskill said, “We’ve left some voters behind, and Republicans dove in with a vengeance and grabbed those voters…So we’ve gotta get back to the meat-and-potatoes issues. We’ve gotta get back to the issues where we are taking care of their families, and we’ve gotta stop acting like we’re smarter than everybody else. Because we’re not.”
McCaskill and Carville both implied that the only way to win as a Democrat is to cast away social issues and their coalitions in favor of pocketbook issues. To them, it was an either-or tradeoff. Underlying both of their statements is a belief that standing up for LGBTQ rights as a core platform principle leads to Democrats being ousted.
The two longtime Democratic political officials not only paint LGBTQ issues as unimportant, unsubstantial, and a loser in the political sphere, but they also paint LGBTQ rights and labor rights as polarized topics.
The example of Dolores Huerta proves the opposite is true. Huerta believed labor rights and LGBTQ rights are linked, and that to fight for one is to fight for the other.
Huerta started her eponymous foundation in 2002, with the goal of weaving the movements for women’s rights, labor rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, and civil rights into one network.
The Dolores Huerta Foundation has now been fighting for these collective rights for 19 years.
Huerta’s decades of work fighting for LGBTQ rights have earned her praise from multiple LGBTQ groups.
When Huerta won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, former National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey wrote that Huerta “has been a fierce, fearless and fabulous voice for justice.”
“She has been a strong advocate and leading Latina voice for full equality for LGBT people,” Carey said, “and we were grateful to have her address our 2009 National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change, where she inspired thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights advocates from around the country and the world.”
Huerta was the keynote speaker at the January 2009 “Creating Change” conference of LGBTQ-rights activists in Denver, Co, where she spoke on the importance of marriage equality and gay rights—one year after Prop 8 in California was passed. Her 3-part speech can be found here, here, and here.
When asked if Obama standing for marriage equality would alienate Latinx voters in a 2012 interview with the Huffington Post, Huerta replied, “The gay rights movement is working for many of the same basic rights and dignities that those of us in the immigrants’ rights and labor movements have been fighting for decades: workplace rights, economic security, access to opportunity. The gay community has been a strong ally for us in the quest for public policy that treats all people with respect and dignity. We will continue to do the same for them.”
Huerta has done multiple PSAs for the group Freedom to Marry, advocating for others to sign the pledge to allow LGBTQ people to access the “human right” of marriage. She also served on the board of Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization. She continues to be a contributor to the organization years later.
Throughout her lifetime, Huerta has worked arm-in-arm with LGBTQ rights activists, and LGBTQ activists have worked arm-in-arm with her in fighting for labor rights and economic opportunity. This is because, as Huerta taught us, both movements are connected in the fight for love, equality, justice, and opportunity. To fight for one is to fight for all.
May we all follow the example of Dolores Huerta. May we never forget the intersection between all of our justice movements and the importance of fighting for everyone’s rights.
A better country for immigrants is a better country for all. A better country for gays and lesbians is a better country for all. We’re all in this together. —Dolores Huerta